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From the Muslim World, Big Donations to American Colleges

What's revealed when you follow the money?

by
Clarice Feldman

Bio

May 16, 2011 - 12:00 am
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Some years ago, Stanley Kurtz took a hard look at the reporting of foreign gifts to American universities, at a time when he was concerned that Title VI Sec. 1011f  might be gutted by a democratic House. (20 USC 1011-Sec. 1011f requires colleges and universities to disclose foreign donations and contracts valued at $250,000 or more, and the Department of Education annually posts them online on its website.) He offered some sound warnings about not tarring all those gifts or recipients as improper while calling for vigilance about the possibility of undue influence on these institutions by the vast sums of foreign — largely Arab — funding.

On March 25, we revisited the issue, suggesting that universities should adopt a code of conduct that requires professors who are the recipients of such grants, or working under contract with outside donors, to disclose that information in public fora.

In mid-April of this year, the Department of Education completed its update of the report of the foreign gifts to American colleges and universities and published it a few days ago. The report is cumulative dating back to 1995 when Congress required the accumulation and publication of such data.

Our latest search combed the records from 2007 to the latest report, looking at all gifts from the Middle East, Malaysia, and Indonesia (predominantly Muslim countries) which totaled $50,000 or more, and all contracts involving these countries which were in excess of $5 million. Reviewing the record, there have been eleven gifts or contracts which met those criteria from Arab states to American universities from June 2010 to mid-April and none from Indonesia or Malaysia.

In this time frame, we also found no gifts from Kuwait or Jordan. Princeton, Cornell, and Johns Hopkins reported no such contracts or gifts. Nor did the University of Texas. The totals do not include endowments made prior to the period of our search, though they may still be funding professorships and other university personnel and functions.

The largest donor in this tranche is the Qatar Foundation. The largest recipient remains Georgetown University. I have asked the Qatar Embassy to make a spokesman available to me so that I can ask what the Foundation determines are the benefits to it and to the American universities of the Foundation relationship, but have not yet heard back. Without further research and data it would appear that Qatar is spending a great deal to jumpstart its educational program and, in essence, is purchasing intellectual capital from the universities and colleges with which it contracts. This is not as unusual as it may appear. I myself have worked on a similar arrangement for a k-12 school abroad. Developing curricula, hiring the appropriate faculty, and getting the necessary equipment and accreditations can be a long and difficult process which can be shortened considerably in this way. Still, it is not hard to imagine that such vast sums of money are buying some influential academic friends or muting some justified criticism — or, at a minimum, distorting the  institutions’ focus.

The Foundation’s website indicates it has relationships with a variety of American and European colleges:

QF offers branch campuses of eight strategically selected elite international universities, delivering world-class programs chosen to ensure Qatar is equipped with essential skills and specialism [sic]:

•       Texas A&M University at Qatar

•       Weill Cornell Medical College in Qatar

•       Georgetown University School of Foreign Service

•       Virginia Commonwealth University in Qatar

•       Carnegie Mellon University

•       Northwestern University in Qatar

•       HEC Paris

•       University College London Qatar

Here’s a breakdown of the gifts and contracts we found in the latest Department of Education report:

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